BY JERRY DONNELAN
Director, Rockland Veterans Service Agency
The GI Bill has been in existence since the end of WWII. Traditionally its use has been to allow veterans to go to college. Well, college isn’t for everyone. God knows I proved that. After WWII, GI’s could go to any school that they could get into and Uncle Sam would foot the bill. Sounds very generous, but it wasn’t just to benefit the GI. In 1945-1946, 15 to 16 million people came out of uniform. Had all of those people tried to go back into the work force of a country retooling its industry, we would have gone right back into the Depression – the Depression that the War had just gotten us out of. So if we could get rid of some of these 16 million people for say four years and have the possibility that they may learn something in the meanwhile, seems like a good idea from all ends.
Today, the GI Bill is not the one of the 1940s, which among other things built SUNY (State University of New York). Today you can go to a SUNY school, but if you choose an Ivy League school, you will have to make up the difference because the GI Bill won’t cover those kinds of tuition. So what if you don’t go to school? It’s simple – you don’t get the money. Further, half of the veterans don’t use the GI Bill and of the half that do, half of them don’t finish. I know in my case it wasn’t an option. By the time I finally got back from Vietnam I was married and had a son. So even though I had a couple of years of college behind me, getting my BA wasn’t going to happen. I had to earn a living even if college was free.
Today fewer people will be using the GI Bill simply because the veteran is older. That’s partly because of our heavy use of Guard and Reserve troops, and partly because of sequestration and the draw down. These are causing a number of the members of our military to be, for lack of a better word, fired, when they thought that they were in the middle of what they saw as their career. So what if the vet could use the GI Bill money as start-up cash, I think it would be better and fair. Say the troop had carpentry skills. Why not let them use the money for tools, rent for shop, advertising, business cards, etc.? Again, not everyone is college material and there is that long period of unemployment when going to school, which puts you behind your peer group – particularly in this type of economy.
Then there’s always the question of just how much is a Bachelor’s Degree worth today? And if you can’t finish in the amount of time allowed, you are then going to have to pick up the cost and education costs are going up at a phenomenal rate. Even faster than medical costs. Other reasons I think the Ivy walls like some many other brick and mortar operations are beginning to crumble is due to the wrecking ball of online education. Some say it’s a matter of time. Of course they will never totally go away because we wouldn’t be able to live without college football.
I know I am not the first one to voice this. It’s been spoken of in Washington, but I don’t know if it’s ever made it out of committee, and I’m sure there are folks from K Street all set to shoot it down if it does. Yes, colleges have lobbies too.
So if you know someone in Washington or TrumpTowers, you might just whisper in their ear and maybe we can help these folks out.
Of course I did it backwards and went to school first. That’s not to say I didn’t learn something. I learned what ‘matriculate’ meant, and if you didn’t do that you lost your student deferment and were subject to the draft. Yes one of the primary reasons I went to school was to avoid the draft – and we all know how well that worked out. You see, I thought matriculation was something you went blind from. Who knew?